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David Coombe 


George Barron Goodman

Revealing the True Identity of Australia’s First Professional Photographer


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In this article I reveal the true identity of Australia’s first professional photographer George Barron Goodman and the faking of his death notice.


Click on this link to a Trove list: George Barron Goodman: Revealing the True Identity of Australia’s First Professional Photographer to see resources for this article, including newspaper reports – you can think of this list as a combination of timeline and footnotes.



George Barron Goodman * (? – 1851)

George Barron Goodman was Australia’s first professional photographer. Armed with territorial rights for Beard’s English patent of the Daguerreotype, he began operating in Sydney in 1842 before moving on to Hobart, Launceston, Bathurst, Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle, Maitland and Goulburn, interspersed with return stays in Sydney.

( * Mostly known in Australia as G.B. Goodman; erroneously referred to as George Baron Goodman).


Biography has managed only one of his life’s termini – death in 1851 – but neither birth nor burial. I went looking for a birth date and turned up more than I expected and more than George Goodman himself may have hoped.


Let’s start the story where most do with his 1842 Australian arrival.


George Goodman landed in Australia with commercial intent, equipment and patter all ready to go. He disembarked the London ship Eden on Friday 4 November 1842. Five days later the Australian printed what could only be described as advertorial.


DAGUERREOTYPE PORTRAITS. – This surprising process, by which the most exact likenesses of animals, landscapes, &c., are taken instantaneously, is the invention of a Mr. Beard, who holds a patent for the same. A gentleman named Goodman, who arrived in the Eden, has brought the necessary apparatus to the colony, with which he intends forthwith to commence taking portraits, &c. So instantaneously is the operation performed, that the sitting generally does not exceed one second of time, and from this rapidity of execution portraits of infants can be taken with facility, and even correct likenesses of horses, dogs, and other favourite animals. By means of this surprising process the likenesses of the finest horses in her Majesty's stud have been taken with the most perfect fidelity. The portraits are accompanied with backgrounds representing landscapes, interiors of apartments, &c., and are fixed by a peculiar process, which prevents their changing colour, or being easily rubbed off. We have no doubt the exertions of Mr. Goodman will be amply rewarded for introducing this elegant invention, the Tenth Wonder of the World as it has been called, into New South Wales.


The Tenth Wonder of the World! Goodman didn’t hold back. A week later the Australian reported further on Goodman’s progress.


DAGUEROTYPE PORTRAITS. – Mr. Goodman has landed his apparatus, and will very soon commence operations in Sydney. We understand the flat roof of the Royal Hotel has been chosen as a proper place for taking these likenesses.


G.B. Goodman's first advertisement in Sydney for his Daguerreotype.
"Advertising" The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 - 1848) 7 December 1842: 3. Web. 3 Apr 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37115886>. As if to a schedule, another week later, the same paper printed notice of his sister’s marriage in London five months prior. Goodman was bombarding the Australian with his personal news. Then began his presumably promised stream of advertisements. Only his first two were surmounted by a Royal coat of arms! (See advertisement at right.)


Goodman soon followed with an announcement of his own marriage. On 4 January 1843 he married Sarah Polack who had been a fellow traveller on the Eden.


MARRIAGES… On the 4th instant, at the residence of her father, Charlotte Place, by the Reverend Mr Isaacs, Miss Sarah Polack, to Mr George Barron Goodman, third son of A Goodman, Esquire, of Nottingham Terrace, Regent's Park, London.


After two months of Daguerreotype operation, he began a second advertising campaign. Photography was bringing portraiture to the masses:


Mr. Goodman has determined, by the lowness of his charges, to place it within the power of all classes to have their portraits taken, being for busts, £1 1s. Three-fourth likenesses, £1 10s. Full length ditto, £2 2s. And one guinea extra charged for the introduction of each figure in a group, exclusive of frames.


Within a few days the Governor visited.


DAGUERREOTYPE. – On Saturday last, His Excellency the Governor, Lady Gipps, Master Reginald Gipps, and the Governor's Suite, visited Mr. Goodman's Daguerrotype, at the Royal Hotel. His Excellency had several likenesses taken of himself, and of Master Gipps, previously to that young gentleman leaving the colony in the Vindictive. The party expressed much surprise and pleasure at the accuracy of the portraits. We call upon all the colonists in town to visit this most interesting invention.

Photographing the Australian Colonists

G.B. Goodman's Daguerreotype advertisment, Adelaide, 1846.
Source: "Advertising" Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904) 24 January 1846: 1. Web. 29 Mar 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158921568>.After nine months in Sydney, Goodman deemed the market sufficiently sated and sailed for Hobart in August 1843. Never staying anywhere too long he toured the Australian colonies: Launceston, Sydney again, Bathurst, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Newcastle, Maitland, Sydney, Goulburn, Sydney.


But not everything went smoothly. It was complained that he “bolted” from Melbourne without paying all his suppliers. Adelaide consumers were warned to be wary. Goodman’s response was to be humbly grateful for the great patronage bestowed on him “in all the sister colonies”. (See advertisement at right.)


Goodman the Daguerreotype artist is well enough known to photographic historians and does not need repeating. It is his identity that interests us here.


After more than four years of peripatetic portraiture, a cheeky read-out-loud piece in Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer foreshadowed Goodman’s change of business in May 1847:


CHANGE OF OCCUPATION. – A rumour is current about town, that Mr. GOODMAN is about to exchange the Daguereotype for the Drag-into-the-tap line.

Sydney, Eden, Sydney

The rumour was true. Goodman sold his business to his brother-in-law Isaac Polack and opened Sydney’s Circular Quay Hotel. Other than a brief stint covering for Isaac, Goodman left the photography business behind. 


In November 1848 Goodman made an unexplained move to Eden (Twofold Bay) and set up as an auctioneer and store-owner.


In December 1849 he returned to Sydney to briefly run the Daguerreotype operation for Isaac Polack and seemingly stayed. In February 1850 both he – George Barry Goodman – as well as father-in-law Abraham Polack were gazetted as spirit merchants in Sydney. But as soon as the following month the pair was at war.


A VERY NICE MAN FOR A FATHER-IN-LAW.—On Wednesday [6 March 1850], Mr. Abraham Polack, the well known auctioneer, was brought before the Court at the instance of Mr. Goodman, the equally well known Daugorreotyper, who charged him with a violent assault, committed on his person on Monday evening, in Pitt-street, when the defendant went the entire animal in doing the dreadful and serious. Putting noses out of joint was not a sufficient display of skill to satisfy Mr. P.'s artistical manoeuvres at single stick, as it appeared he had smashed his son-in-law's nasal organ in twain, and divided his lip so as effectually to prevent his ever in future having too much of it. The cause of action was obscure. All that could be collected was that Polack met Goodman, who at the time was leading his child by the hand, and that defendant enquired where he was going to take it. Goodman replied that he was proceeding homewards, and Polack then attempted to take it away. A scuffle ensued, and Polack struck Goodman with his stick, breaking the cartilage of the nose (a serious injury as every one knows), and severing the lip. The defendant then, auctioneer-like, knocked Goodman down, and took the child away. Some slight mention was made of Goodman's being about to proceed to England by the “St. George,” and the whole of the evidence before the Court is before the reader. At its conclusion, the attornies engaged, Messrs. Johnson and Brenan, asked for half an hour to arrange out of Court. This and two additional hours were subsequently granted, and it then was announced that all had been squared excepting complainant's nose. The whole affair was a tale of mystery. The only things plain were the nosological appearances, and, that great an artist as Goodman was in taking likenesses by the “Sun,” more striking wood-cut impressions were produced by the stick of the “Father.” They were regular stunners, and no mistake. This considered, it became no wonder that the complainant wishing still to be deemed a Good man at his art, frightened at the stick-work of his father, resolved to cut his timber for England.


So, George Goodman resolved definitely to return to England. He was likely too injured and too late to take his passage on the St. George which departed the same day as the case was heard – at least he’s not named among the passengers.

The Late George Goodman

Nothing is read of George Goodman in Australian newspapers for 19 months until 18 October 1851:


DIED. On the 2nd of June last, in Paris, after a few days' illness, Mr. George Goodman, late of this city, much respected by all who knew him; leaving a large family circle in England to deplore their loss.


In two months (on 18 December) Sarah remarried:


MARRIED… By special license, on Thursday, the 18th instant, by the Rev. Dr. Fullerton, Mr. Claude Grant Arnold, to Sarah, relict of the late Mr. George B. Goodman, formerly of this city.


Sarah’s new husband Claude Arnold was a clerk in the Customs department. Her daughters were then aged seven and four.

Finding George Goodman

That’s the story as it has been known of George Goodman. An absence of death or burial registration frustrates topping and tailing. Where were his beginning and end? When a tackle does not do the job a side-step might.


Goodman’s own publicity contains clues to his identity. Both George’s 1843 marriage and the 1842 marriage of his sister Minna Cecelia identify their father as “A. Goodman, Esq., of Nottingham Terrace, Regent's Park, London”. Another daughter of the very same late Londoner is Rosa who married in 1855. And “A. Goodman”? The Post Office London, Court Directory for 1843 lists one “Abraham A. Goodman, esq., 5 Nottingham Terrace” – the father of George, Rosa and Minna.


The 1841 census is the next critical clue, listing the following household (all born in Middlesex):


Residence:      Nottingham Terrace, St Marylebone, Middlesex, England

Abraham Goodman, age 60-64

Rosa Goodman, age 55-59

Rosa Goodman, age 20-24

Minna Goodman, age 15-19


Sisters Rosa and Minna with father Abraham of Nottingham Terrace make this clearly George Goodman’s family. George is not present, but he may well have been living other than with the family.


Knowing George’s parents, we are led to his baptism in the parish of St. Marylebone, Middlesex. The register reads: “George Barry, son of / Abraham and Rosa / Goodman / 29 Baker Street / Gentleman (deceased) / born 10 April 1815”. The date of the baptism is 25 November 1861 when George was 46 years old and his gentleman father was long dead. It is this pivotal evidence that links George Barron Goodman of Australia with George Barry Goodman of England. Also, we now have his birth date.


Why would he be baptised so late in life? George’s adult baptism seems connected to his son’s death a fortnight later. George Reginald Goodman, 29 Baker Street, Marylebone, died aged 4 and was buried in All Souls' cemetery on 11 December 1861. Ministering to the son may have been the path to baptising the father.


We are now privy to George’s wider family. George Barry Goodman had at least two children, one of them being George Reginald with Ellen Sophia Webster before marrying her in 1879. First child Ellen was born in 1854. Their growing family are recorded in the censuses. George’s various occupations are also of interest. He was a repeat inventor, an auctioneer, a refreshment-house keeper, and a gymnasium and skating hall proprietor! Goodman was an entrepreneur. He also suffered bankruptcy and for a while the last I found of him was the closing of his bankruptcy case on 4 July 1883.


Knowing his English family also allows us to find our George Goodman (among several) in the English census of 30 March 1851, when he was residing with Ellen’s half brother Frederick Webster. George is identified as Frederick’s brother-in-law, not on account of a de facto relationship with Ellen, but because George’s older sister Ann Juliet was married to Frederick.

Revisiting George Goodman and Sarah Polack in Australia

We can now revisit George Goodman in Australia in the light of our new knowledge of him.


There has always been an assumption that George Goodman and Sarah Polack met and began a romance on the 1842 Eden voyage. But they may well have met three years earlier.


Sarah was born in New South Wales on 27 June 1825. Her father Abraham Polack – a businessman and expired convict – was reported in June 1839 as about to leave the colony, but in the end it was his family who departed.


It has been currently reported for the last three weeks, that the Rothschild of New South Wales was about taking his departure from our shores by the Andromache, on Tuesday next ; but on inquiry, we find that such is not the fact; but Mrs. Polack, with her daughter and sons, go home by that ship, the former for the benefit of her health, and for the purpose of placing the latter at a first-rate seminary, preparatory to their receiving a college education. We understand this is a preliminary step towards Mr. P. winding up his affairs and retiring from business and the Colony altogether, to enjoy in peaceful retirement the benefits arising from the splendid property he has accumulated by his successful speculations; and most indefatigable exertions. Mrs. Polack leaves this [colony] with the good wishes of every one to whom she is known.


A month earlier, in May 1839, a George Goodman arrived in Sydney from Gravesend. And a George Goodman departed Sydney for London in March 1841. Although their romance may have begun in 1842, they may well have met in that one month overlap through Jewish connections.


When Sarah Polack departed Sydney just before her fourteenth birthday, her mother carried an official copy of her baptism from the St James parish register. This document and the certificate of her marriage to George Goodman still exist.


 Sarah Goodman papers, 1836-1843 at the State Library of New South Wales.



Detail from letter. Source: Sarah Goodman papers, 1836-1843 : Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales [MLDOC 739] http://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110357434The marriage certificate shows the groom’s name as George Goodman. (A letter to the prospective groom from the synagogue has, frustratingly, a portion missing where his given names or initials would be.)


In Australian history he has been known as George Barron Goodman – but he was only ever called that once in his newspaper notice of his own marriage. It was likely an affectation. In advertisements he always referred to himself as G.B. Goodman. A few times he appeared as George Barry Goodman: as publican of the Circular Quay Hotel, as a licensed Sydney spirit merchant, and as ship passenger from Adelaide to Sydney in 1846.


Statistically he was George Barry Goodman more than he was George Barron Goodman.

Who Disappeared George Goodman?

The last we know of Goodman in Australia was the assault by his father-in-law on Monday 4 March 1850. The first we know of him in England is the census on 30 March 1851 where he’s listed as the brother-in-law in the household of Frederick Webster. I have not found his intervening journey from Australia.


I wondered if he did in fact leave on the St. George after all. Although he is not listed, there is a G. Smith. But this seems to be George Smith who later returned on the St. George after buying a horse from England.


A “Mr. and Mrs. Goodman and family” were listed aboard the ship Stebonheath when she sailed from Port Phillip bound for England on 12 February 1851. Stebonheath arrived off Plymouth on 5 July and landed passengers including “Mr. and Mrs. Goodman and three children.” Could this have been part of a false document trail, facilitated by Sarah Goodman’s next husband from the Customs department at a time when Port Phillip district was still part of New South Wales? The Goodmans are known to have had two daughters – was a third born on the voyage? This was an intriguing theory until learning Goodman was already in London for the 1851 census in March. Then this theory became too great a stretch. There seems to be another Goodman family that could match the Stebonheath one.


The most likely explanation for the facts is that George left Sydney alone, without his wife and two children.


When Goodman decided in March 1850 to sail from Sydney, what did he tell his family? Did he say he was going back to France to acquire the latest photographic innovation? Did he promise to return? Or did he and Sarah agree that George and the Polacks had had enough of each other? Did he take a walk with six year old Hannah and tell her anything?


And in England what did George tell Ellen Sophia Webster by 1854 before they began their de facto marriage? What did she know about his career and family in Australia?


And what about the death notice? If George initiated this, he had to have written soon after his presumed death on 2 June 1851 for the letter to arrive in Sydney by October. This is feasible given the shipping arrivals then. Was this more spur of the moment stuff from George? If there was such a letter, did George write it himself telling Sarah the truth or did he get someone else to shroud his new life?


And if there was no letter, then George’s death seems to be Sarah’s invention.


George’s death was reported in Sydney in October 1851. The rest we’ll never know.

The Death of George Goodman

After linking George Barron Goodman to George Barry Goodman, finding his end was a genealogy task, though not a totally straightforward one thanks to frequently shifting surnames. Another twist of identities hindered discovery of George’s death record: the will/probate of his wife (22 June 1888) is in the name Ellen Goodman Webster, and her husband is named George Barry Goodman Webster. And it was in this name that a death was registered.


George Barry Goodman Webster died on 8 March 1891 in Chorlton upon Medlock in the County of Manchester. His age was given as 73 (b.c. 1817-1818) and his occupation as “retired auctioneer”. His son was in attendance. (We can expect his son’s statement of age to be less reliable than George’s own statement of birth date at his baptism.) The death register entry maintained George’s secrets.

The True Identity of Australia’s First Professional Photographer

We now know England’s George Barry Goodman (10 April 1815 – 8 March 1891) is one and the same with Australia’s Daguerreotypist George Barron Goodman who we can now say was born in 1815 and died in 1891.


“Goodman's daguerreotype portrait of Doctor William Bland is the earliest known surviving photograph taken in Australia” (c. 1844-1845). See the State Library of New South Wales article. Despite Goodman making many daguerreotypes there are none known of him as subject.


I thank Terri Tait who corresponded with me concerning her research centred on Goodman’s wife Ellen Sophia Webster and including the (latter) family of George Barry Goodman. Terri has documented families of the English stage including Ellen who was from a stage family.


2019-04-05 Goodman’s “brother-in-law” status in 1851 census was on account of his sister Ann Juliet Goodman (1807 – 1856) being married to Frederick Webster, not a de facto relationship (yet) between Goodman and Ellen Webster as I earlier surmised. Thanks to Terri Tait for this correction. This changed the questions surrounding George’s death advice.



David Coombe
4 April 2019


CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2019, George Barron Goodman: Revealing the True Identity of Australia’s First Professional Photographer, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <http://coombe.id.au/research/George_Barron_Goodman.htm>


Original: 4 April 2019. Updated: 5 April 2019.